April 1, 2004

Comparative politics

Until this morning, Beverley Hughes was the Minister for Immigration in Tony Blair's government. Today, amid a scandal, Hughes was forced to resign as junior minister - equivalent to undersecretary in the US or a vice-ministro criollo.

Since the relative probity of British and Venezuelan institutions has become a somewhat ludicrous topic in my comments forum, I thought I should write something about Beverley Hughes

Hughes came down after a scandal over fake visa-applications from Romania and Bulgaria that were being waived by Hughes' department without the legal checks. Oh, you think, she got caught bending the rules, so she had to resign! Not quite.

Beverley Hughes had not been informed that her department was waving these checks. The decision was made by a mid-ranking official: Hughes heard about it when everyone else did, by reading it in the newspaper.

The reason Hughes is resigning is that, two nights ago, she gave an interview to a BBC program where she claimed she had never heard of the problems in Bulgaria and Romania until they came out in the press.

The following day, an internal document check revealed that Hughes had in fact received a report about the problems one year earlier, and had replied in writing. Though, in her resignation statement, she insisted that she had not intended to deceive the British public, Hughes was forced to accept that her statement on TV had not been truthful. Under such circumstances, she felt she had no choice but to "take responsibility" and resign her ministerial post.

I read this story with stupor, with a sense of bafflement and longing. Maybe I'm crazy for thinking that one day Venezuelans will demand this level of probity from our elected leaders. But who knows?